The wait for Chelsea to burst into life as an exhilarating attacking force goes on. Their first win in seven attempts over a fellow top-half side this season owed more to grit than inspiration, even though two late goals from Tammy Abraham gave the scoreline a deceptive look, masking the fact that West Ham had forced the game to be played on their terms for long spells.
Ultimately resilience was enough to move Chelsea into fifth place but not to eradicate concerns over their lack of rhythm in the final third. With Thiago Silva imperious at the back, Frank Lampard’s side dealt with some uncomfortable moments as they rose above Tottenham on goal difference. They battled for a clean sheet and it was positive for Lampard to see his forwards produce some quality moments despite not playing well, leaving West Ham to regret some powderpuff finishing and a slow start.
“It was what we needed off the back of two defeats,” Lampard said. “Our defensive game was great. I wasn’t sure it would be a beautiful game. I thought the lads dealt with it well.”
It was Silva who set the tone for Chelsea early on, snapping away at Sebastien Haller whenever the ball came to the West Ham forward. The centre-back’s aggression summed up Chelsea’s positive mindset, allowing them to squeeze the play.
Haller looked slightly surprised to find a top defender giving him no time to settle. On the touchline David Moyes bellowed at the Frenchman. Angelo Ogbonna, West Ham’s centre-back, seemed to guide Haller through the game, telling him when to run and where to move. It did not feel like an ideal way to build and, with West Ham struggling to hold possession, Chelsea’s greater intensity paid off when Silva broke the deadlock after 10 minutes, capitalising on poor marking to meet Mason Mount’s corner with a powerful header.
Silva celebrated with a guttural roar. Under pressure after insipid defeats away to Everton and Wolves, Chelsea greeted the breakthrough with relish. For a while they were all over West Ham. Christian Pulisic threatened with lively dribbles and a second goal might have arrived when Mount’s low centre flashed across goal.
“We need some bucking up here,” Declan Rice yelled, no doubt seething at being given the runaround against his boyhood club. The West Ham midfielder, who remains a target for Chelsea, knew that his team-mates were off the pace. That has not been the way for West Ham this season. Awkward and physical, they had ways of hurting Chelsea. They even thought that they had an early lead when Rice scored from a tight angle after being released by a quick free-kick. An offside flag cut the celebrations short.
Keen to adopt a robust approach, Moyes dropped the skilful but unreliable Saïd Benrahma for Mark Noble. With numbers in midfield, West Ham began to threaten, driven on by Rice. Jarrod Bowen ran at Emerson Palmieri, introduced at left-back after Ben Chilwell suffered an ankle injury, and Aaron Cresswell fired wide. Kurt Zouma cleared an overhead kick from Haller, while Bowen had a goal ruled out for a questionable foul on Silva.
There was always a sense that Chelsea had an extra gear. After 43 minutes they countered brilliantly, Pulisic a blur of motion. Yet when the winger released Timo Werner, the German’s lack of confidence betrayed him. Goalless since the start of November, Werner shot straight at Lukasz Fabianski.
Werner looked to the heavens, wondering when his luck would turn. He has missed plenty of chances recently and one cross, sliced high into the Matthew Harding Stand on the run, summed up his efforts for much of the night. Fortunately for Chelsea, West Ham’s forward line did not exactly ooze menace either. Early in the second half a Cresswell cross was begging to be headed home. Haller, rising high, glanced well wide.
West Ham kept pressing, making themselves a nuisance, winning a series of corners. Tomas Soucek was winning headers in midfield and Bowen kept looking for openings on the right. Forced back, with Jorginho unable to dictate the flow after starting in place of Kai Havertz in midfield, Chelsea needed to clear the aerial danger.
Half-chances came and went. Cesar Azpilicueta blocked when Pablo Fornals looked certain to equalise. Introduced for Fornals, Benrahma found space in the area and saw a shot deflected wide. Yet West Ham lacked bite without the injured Michail Antonio, and eventually the gulf in class told. “We’ve done good things but not enough good things in either box,” Moyes said afterwards.
Werner was rewarded for refusing to let his head drop, helping to seal the points when his cross-shot found Abraham, who slid past Fabianski. Moments later Abraham finished again from close range, carrying Chelsea to safety. Lampard will hope there is more to come.